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2018 Men's Final Four - Peninsula's balance propels the Pirates to title game

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Peninsula 89, Linn-Benton 74 stats

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Colby Jackson scored 20 points to lead six Peninsula Pirates in double figures as the North Region’s second seed advanced to the 2018 NWAC Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game with an 89-75 win over Linn-Benton.

Jackson shot 7-for-11 from the field and 2-of-4 from the 3-point line as the Pirates made the title game for the first time since they won it all in 2011. Peninsula is now 22-10 on the season and will meet the winner of the North Idaho-Portland semifinal. Linn-Benton, the second seed from the South Region, finished its season 22-10.

Marky Adams scored 15 points, Cameron Burton 14, Kaelin Crane 13, Trent Warren 12 and Eli’sha Sheppard 10 for the Pirates, who shot 48.3 percent from the field and made 27 of 32 free throws for 84.4 percent.  

“They’re a very aggressive team and we wanted to attack that pressure as much as we could,” said Peninsula coach Mitch Freeman. “Getting to the free throw line was a very important stat for us.”

Linn Benton’s Trey Ecker unleashed an eight-point run in the span of 1:28 to extend the Roadrunners’ early lead from 11-9 to 19-11 at the 11:11 mark of the first half. But back came the Pirates with a 19-7 run of their own to take a 30-26 lead with 5:14 left before intermission.

The Pirates managed their largest first-half lead at 43-37 on a basket by Crane with 1:06 left before Matthew Ismay canned a 3-pointer for the Roadrunners with 49 seconds left before half to create the 43-40 halftime score.

Linn-Benton never took the lead in the second half, but the Roadrunners managed to the game once, at 48-48, with 14:09 left. But Peninsula slowly pulled away. The Pirates’ largest lead of the game was the final margin.

Taylor Jenson led Linn-Benton with 17 points and Ecker added nine.

Crane said the balance the Pirates showed is something that has been happening all season long.

“Everybody can go,” Crane said. “We practice hard and everybody wants to win. I think we did a really good job.”

Freeman agreed that the Pirates shared the ball well during the win.

“We definitely play that the whole is more important than the sum of the parts, it’s something we go by,” Freeman said. “We have tremendous leadership in Trent Warren and Colby Jackson and our guys trust and believe in one another and that’s what makes it work.”

Peninsula defeated Linn-Benton 77-72 earlier this season on Dec. 30 in the Clackamas Holiday Tournament. Freeman said his team did study film of that game even though it took place two and a half months ago.

“We actually looked at it quite a bit because it’s the best way for our guys to get a good feel for who we are playing,” Freeman said. “We look at each individual player and what he wants to do and how he does it. We watched as much as we could.”

Peninsula will be gunning for its third NWAC championship. The Pirates beat Pierce 80-76 for the title in 2011 in Kennewick, and they also won in 1970 when they beat Lower Columbia 132-130 in overtime in Longview.

Jackson said he doesn’t expect the Pirates to change anything at this point.

“We did the same thing to get here and it’s the same thing we’ve done all year long,” Jackson said. “You can’t change it up now. You gotta stay the course.”

Freeman said the championship game is not just another game, and the Pirates won’t approach it as such.

“It’s a different game and we treat it for what it is,” he said. “We try to embrace the moment, and we want our guys to get excited about playing in a championship environment.”

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